Exeter Rugby Club has decided the way forward in complaints about its appropriation of Native American imagery is to ask a group likely to be heavily invested in maintaining that imagery: its members (Exeter’s Tony Rowe: ‘We’re not trying to belittle the image or ancestry of anyone’, 16 October).
We have seen this investment in professional American football teams in Kansas City and Washington DC, and hundreds of other sports teams across the US and Canada – many of which have dropped the appropriated Indigenous iconography and changed their names. Exeter’s approach will surely see the perpetuation of the Chiefs nickname, and the club’s Wigwam bar and stereotyped totem pole.
Around the world, Indigenous peoples are challenging the reduction of complex societies to a single status such as “warriors” and other derogatory labels. The extensive body of research exploring these issues shows that this reductionism is psychologically and socially damaging, and maintains systems of oppression and marginalisation.
Elsewhere, such as in New Zealand and Australian rugby, we have seen sports bodies engaging with Indigenous communities regarding appropriate use of Indigenous iconography. In giving the decision only to its members, Exeter Rugby Club is obliterating the voices of those Indigenous peoples whose image they appropriate, peoples whose experience of being colonised is one of cultural if not physical genocide. In doing so, the club is perpetuating that extermination.
The Rugby Football Union should listen to the voices of Indigenous peoples globally and put an end to this appropriation.
Dr Malcolm MacLean
International Centre for Sports History and Culture, De Montfort University